Municipalities and the Urban Question in South Africa

Apr 24, 2018

Table of Contents



The pre-interim phase (1994-1996). 3

The interim phase (1996-2000): 4

The final phase (post 2000): 5


The Integrated Urban Development Framework. 8

Applying The OECD Methodology In South Africa to the IUDF. 9

Delineating Rural Areas In Accordance With The Comprehensive Rural Development Programme Framework (CRDP) 10





Africa’s population is expected to more than double by 2050 to around 2 billion (20% of the global population).   Nigeria alone is likely by then to be a country of around 500 million people.  By 2050, Africa’s population will surpass that of India (1.5 billion) and China (1.4 billion).  During this period, the urban population will increase threefold, from around 400 million people to around 1.2 billion, with a predicted increase in the number of people living in informal settlements from a current 40% to 58%.   Africa’s future is certainly urban, as is the case elsewhere in the world.

This pace of urban growth in Africa is unprecedented in history. It took 150 years (5 generations) for the majority of the population of Europe to become urban, but it is taking only 60 years (2 generations) for Africa to travel the same journey. Despite the rapid pace of urbanization, most African urbanites have been living in cities of less than 0.5 million inhabitants, and will continue to do so in the future.

What is characteristic of present-day African cities is that urban growth often takes the form of informal settlements and slums. Slum growth in African is therefore staggering, and in just seven years (2000-2007), the actual number of people living in slums increased from around 116 million to around 135 million.

Clearly, while there may be efforts to fast-track urban development to accommodate the rapid growth in urban population, the rate at which this is happening is not fast enough.

The largest cities across Africa are shouldering the burden of being the major settlement and economic hubs. For example, the following cities have over 10% of their total country population residing in one city:  Tripoli, Libya (37%); Mogadishu, Somalia (27%); Hargeisa, Somalia (26%);  Luanda, Angola (24%); Dakar, Senegal (23%); Tunis, Tunisia (22%);  Cairo, Egypt (21%); Johannesburg/ eKhuruleni/ Tshwane, South Africa (20%);  Abidjan, Ivory Coast (18%); Harare, Zimbabwe (18%); Accra, Ghana (14%);  Lusaka, Zambia (14%); Khartoum, Sudan (14%); Bamako, Mali (13%); Kinshasa, DR Congo (12%); Yaounde, Cameroon (12%); Douala, Cameroon (11%); Maputo, Mozambique (10%).  In the case of the most populous country – Nigeria, Lagos has over 15 million people residing there, with a number of other very large cities.  In South Africa alone, we have the Johannesburg/Tshwane/Ekurhuleni hub of over 10 million people with eThekwini and Cape Town both having over 4 million people residing there.

Economically, these major cities play a major role in the economies of their respective countries. Whilst there is a dearth of reliable economic information on African cities, what exists demonstrates this point quite well.   The economic concentration is even more manifest when comparing these major cities’ population share with their economic share.  Many cities have GDPs which are 2-4 times what one would expect simply based on their population size.x

Together with economic strength though, comes inequality. Gini coefficients across African cities range fairly widely from cities in South Africa and Nigeria having amongst the highest (and being the most unequal) to others like Dar es Salaam and Yaounde which have much lower Gini coefficients.

Finally, there are major challenges facing African cities in delivering basic services.  Whilst “improved” water and sanitation are commonly used to measure access to basic services, if one looks at water piped into homes and flush toilets in homes, the challenges facing African cities in addressing backlogs becomes much clearer.

A comparative examination of African cities is difficult because of the historical trajectories each country has taken institutionally, economically, socially and infrastructurally.

In South Africa, for example, there is no formal definition of a “city” or “urban area” as our democratic Constitution, adopted in 1996, requires the establishment of three spheres of government (national, provincial and local) where local governments are meant to bring together communities and settlements linked functionally rather than according to their density or degree of urbanity/rurality.

This paper describes the post-apartheid process of establishing the municipal system and continues through an examination of the degree to which the municipalities are “urban” or “rural”, including also policy and methodological responses being made which allow for this differentiation.



After the release of Nelson Mandela and during the negotiated settlement post-1990, it was agreed that democratically elected municipalities would only be established after the finalisation of the Constitution.  The change from racially-based and fragmented local government to a more non-racial, democratic local government took place in three phases.

The pre-interim phase (1994-1996)

The pre-interim phase began the process of legitimising local government by unifying and deracialising local authorities and making them more inclusive.  This was done through local negotiating forums that negotiated the establishment of transitional councils, which unified previously racially divided black, white, Indian and coloured local authority areas.  These transitional councils compromised an equal number of appointed members from the statutory and non-statutory sides, and were therefore more legitimate than the old racially-based local government bodies.

The Local Government Transition Act, 1993, incorporated to some extent some of the provisions of the Interim Measures Act, thus also providing for bodies such as demarcation boards to investigate the re-demarcation of local government areas in terms of certain criteria.  The new Act (or LGTA as it was popularly known) provided for certain types of pre-interim local government bodies to be established across the country until elections could be held for interim bodies.

The types of structures that could be established in terms of the Act for the pre-interim phase, entailed:

  1. a transitional council for a primary local authority in a non-metropolitan area and a transitional metropolitan council with substructures for a metropolitan area, based on an appointed council comprised on a 50/50 statutory/non-statutory basis
  2. a local government co-ordinating committee with representatives of the local government bodies in the forum area for a non-metropolitan area, the basis of representation to be determined by the local negotiating forum and to include a non-statutory component.

In both of the above cases, a local negotiating forum determined what type of structure would be created.

The interim phase (1996-2000):

The interim phase began with the local government elections which replaced the appointed members of the transitional authorities with elected members.

The first democratic national elections were held in April 1994 and the first democratic local government elections, were scheduled to take place on 1 November 1995, with all such elections taking place on the same day throughout the country.  However, in the long run it became necessary to stagger the elections and other election dates for the Western Cape rural areas, the whole of KwaZulu-Natal and certain other isolated cases in other provinces, were eventually announced.

The following structures were elected:

  • transitional metropolitan councils with substructures in metropolitan areas
  • transitional local councils for urban areas;
  • district councils for rural areas accompanied by a network of transitional representative councils and rural local councils

The 1995/1996 local government elections were a unique event in the process to establish legitimate local government.  This culminated in 843 new local authorities.  These elections were the primary responsibility of the provincial authorities in the nine provinces, with an informal Elections Task Group acting as co-ordinator at national level.  The legal framework for the election management and procedures were provided by the Interim Constitution (Act 200 of 1993), the Local Government Transition Act (Act 209 of 1993) and the Local Government Transition Election Regulations, 1994.

Given the negotiated settlement, these elections were conducted under unique circumstances and were not truly democratic in nature.  They ensured a 50:50 mix of ward elected councillors coming from the former “statutory” (white, coloured and Indian) and “non-statutory” (black) areas.  Half the wards would be in one and a half in the other, regardless of their respective populations.  The conduct of these elections were not without controversy, or error.

The final phase (post 2000):

The 1996 Constitution, and a range of new local government Acts adopted after the enactment of the 1996 Constitution, provided the final legislative framework for the transformation of local government in South Africa. The Constitution was then adopted in 1996 and together with a local government White Paper resulted in five pieces of legislation. (Demarcation[1], Structures[2], Systems[3], Rating[4] and Financial Management[5]).  Importantly, the Constitution made reference to municipalities without any notions of urban-rural, small-large, etc.  In other words the new municipalities were to be functionally-integrated entities.

The Municipal Demarcation Act required the independent Board to demarcate municipalities to advance the objectives of local government and after taking into account a whole set of different factors.  The legislative framework provided that South Africa would be divided into three categories of municipality:

  • Category A (Metropolitan municipalities): A municipality that has exclusive municipal executive and legislative authority in its area. These single tier municipalities where there are high densities and significant economic bases. These municipalities would have an equal split of ward and proportionally-elected councillors;
  • The rest of the country would then be demarcated into Category C (Districts) which contained Category B (local municipalities), with Category B (Local municipalities) being local municipalities that share municipal executive and legislative authority in its area with a category C (District) municipality within whose area it falls.

In summary, the demarcations were undertaken in order to establish democratic municipalities which would be more economically coherent, financially viable and would be able to deliver services more efficiently and effectively.  Importantly, given the racial base of South Africa, the issue of “community will” was deliberately not included in the factors to be taken into account when demarcating the new boundaries.

President Mandela appointed an independent Municipal Demarcation Board in 1999 and in 18 months the Board redemarcated the boundaries required for the new, democratic municipal system.  That system ensured that there is a more nonracial and integrated system with municipalities now encompassing single tax bases (People living, working and shopping in roughly the same municipality).  Whilst every effort was made to ensure that there will be a greater sharing of human, technical and financial resources at a municipal level, the concentration of such resources in a few major urban centres made this a difficult task to fulfil, although at least black communities functionally linked to the former white economic areas were now included into the new municipal boundaries.

Elections in these new areas were held under the supervision of the Independent Electoral Commission on 5 December 2000 and the new, democratic municipal system came into being with the 843 existing apartheid municipalities and the large portions of South Africa where there was no municipal governance, being rationalised into the following:

  • 6 Category A municipalities (incorrectly, but often, referred to as Metropolitan) with 6.6 million voters, 1052 councillors (527 were ward councillors) around the major economic centres of Johannesburg, East Rand, Pretoria, Durban, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. A further two areas have been added post-2000, those around the areas formerly known as Bloemfontein and East London, making 8 category A municipalities.
  • 231 Category B (Local Municipalities) with 11.7 million voters, 6376 councillors (3227 ward councillors), but since 2000 there have been a number of municipal amalgamations and today there are 205 Category B municipalities
  • 47 District Municipalities with 1518 councillors serving them. Of these councillors 609 were directly elected and the remainder were nominated by their respective local municipalities.  Today there are 44 Category C municipalities.

In reality the landscape of South Africa is one where there are municipalities which are:

  • Areas of major economic growth, hope and relative prosperity: These are generally the major urban areas (of which there are 6), some 4 which could be Category A municipalities and another 20 “secondary” or “intermediate” urban areas. In these 30 municipalities one finds: (i) more than 80% of the jobs of the secondary, tertiary and quaternary sector taken as a whole and (ii) relatively high levels of income.
  • Areas with smaller pockets of formal sector activity: A second set of municipalities, much smaller in size, bring together places in which there is some formal sector economic activity, from farming to mining to the leisure and tourism sector. These places usually have large hinterlands of the unemployed where backlogs in providing social services and infrastructure are very high.
  • Areas where there is very little economically productive activity, but with major social welfare needs: The final set of municipalities are in places where the major aspects of the economy revolve around government programmes of health, welfare and education.

The major metropolitan areas and secondary cities have a more significant impact and make a larger contribution to the economy than do many of the provinces. Over 30% of the people of South Africa are found in these areas, but their contribution to the Gross Domestic Product is at least twice that. A very high proportion of job opportunities are found in these Category A municipalities, and this is borne out by the fact that on average the populations of these centres grew by over 20% between 2001-2011.

At the same time, the coincidence of race and access to resources remains great, both between municipalities and within municipalities, where the highest backlogs of basic services (water, electricity, solid waste, sanitation, public transport) are greatest in the poorest and blackest areas.

“By way of example in the Durban Metropolitan Area there is not a single city, but in fact five kinds of cities: A City of Death (hostels, areas where hit squads and apartheid violence is still endemic), a City of Survival (where people even take on the law to survive — such as through land invasions), a City of Hope (where people trust democracy will deliver real material benefits), a City of Entitlement (where people presume the high standards at relatively low cost because of rebates) and a City of Superfluity (where people live in opulence).”

The rural areas are of course more complex, because historically they have been seen simply as reservoirs of cheap labour and have been progressively underdeveloped whilst at the same time systems of authority have been strengthened in such areas. Democracy, redistribution and development remain the key challenges in the rural areas where over 50% of all people of African origin still reside. Programmes of meaningful rural development will inevitably require redistribution of resources from urban areas on a massive scale.

The next section describes policy development approaches to address the inequality across and within South African municipalities.




National Development Plan

The National Development Plan (2009) (NDP) which provides South Africa’s developmental framework towards 2030 recognised the need for a comprehensive programme of urban and rural development starting with the “recognition of the extreme differentiation within rural South Africa.”  In all parts of South Africa, urban and rural, an understanding of the differences between different settlement types allows for a better focus on what needs to be done in order to achieve sustainable development.

The NDP argued for planning and development programmes to be focussed on achieving the following:

  • Spatial Justice
  • Spatial Sustainability
  • Spatial Resilience
  • Spatial Quality
  • Spatial Efficiency

The Integrated Urban Development Framework

The Integrated Urban Development Framework (IUDF) is a policy framework guiding the reorganization of the urban system of South Africa so that cities and towns can become inclusive, resource efficient and adequate places to live, as per the vision outlined in the National Development Plan (NDP). The IUDF built on various chapters of the NDP and extends Chapter 8 ‘Transforming human settlements and the national space It also responds to the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular to Goal 11: Making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

In May 2015, Cabinet adopted the Integrated Urban Development Framework (IUDF) with a vision of creating “liveable, safe, resource-efficient cities and towns that are socially integrated, economically inclusive and globally competitive, where residents actively participate in urban life”.

The overall outcome of the IUDF is spatial transformation. This marks a new deal for South African cities and towns, by steering urban growth towards a sustainable growth model of compact, connected and coordinated cities and towns. The IUDF implementation plan identified a number of short term proposals to achieve spatial transformation.

The IUDF puts forward a number of policy levers namely: integrated spatial planning; integrated transport and mobility; integrated and sustainable human settlements; integrated urban infrastructure; efficient land governance and management; inclusive economic development; empowered active communities and efficient urban governance.

Differentiating Rural and Urban Areas in South Africa

A number of means for classifying municipalities in South Africa in terms of their “urbanness” or “ruralness” have been examined and are explored below.  The first used is that adopted by the OECD, distinguishing between what OECD calls Predominantly Urban (PU), Intermediate (INT) and Predominantly Rural (PR) jurisdictions.  This methodology provides a broadly acceptable scientific basis on which to understand the degree to which municipalities in South Africa are urban or not.  But the methodology does not allow us to understand the specific rural context in which South Africa finds itself, where high density settlements are also found in ‘rural areas’ such as in former homelands and traditional authority areas.

The next methodology looks at how South Africa’s Comprehensive Rural Development Programme Framework (CRDP) conceptualizes targeting rural areas for development purposes.  It continues, through providing a methodology which allows for all the wards in South Africa to be categorized in terms of the degree to which they fulfil the criteria.

Applying The OECD Methodology In South Africa to the IUDF

The OECD Regional Typology is based on population density and size of urban centres located within regions. The population figures from the most recent (2011) census, using some 103568 Enumerator Areas and the area of each, were used in determining density.  These data were then aggregated by municipality, defining them as “Predominantly Urban“ (PU) (if the share of the “rural” population at a density less then 150 persons per square kilometre was less than 15%), “Intermediate” (IN) (if the share of “rural” population is between 15% and 50%) and “Predominantly Rural” (PR) (if the share of population living in rural local units is higher than 50%).

Using this methodology, South Africa’s 213 local municipalities were divided as follows:

  • Primarily Urban: 111, ranging in size from 10000 to 4,4 million
  • Intermediate: 94, ranging in size from 5000 to 166,000
  • Primarily Rural: 8, ranging in size from 34000 to 186000 in size

Figure 2:  Outcome of applying the OECD regional methodology

Further examination of 156 municipalities which are either predominantly urban or which contain a significant proportion of people living in urban settlements, one finds a range of developmental need in each area, as indicated in the following table:

Table 1: Differences in development indicators between settlement size groups

Delineating Rural Areas In Accordance With The Comprehensive Rural Development Programme Framework (CRDP)

The definition of rural areas in South Africa is a difficult task, given the distortions resulting from colonial and apartheid practices.  In order to   bridge the socio-economic gap between the rural and urban spaces, a Comprehensive Rural Development Programme (CRDP)[6] (2009) has been adopted and which focusses attention on rural areas.  However, as municipalities are neither entirely urban nor rural, this is not a straight forward excercies.  In the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform’s (DRDLR) Strategic Plan (2015- 2020)[7] the CRDP has been defined as the DRDLR’s principal mandatory policy.

Given the lack of definition, the CRDP defined rural areas as “sparsely populated areas in which people farm or depend on natural resources, including villages and small towns that are dispersed throughout these areas. In addition, they include large settlements in the former homelands, created by apartheid removals, which depend for their survival on migratory labour and remittances.”

A methodology was developed to prioritise or classify these “rural” areas (some of which were high density rural settlements with no economic base at all) in order to translate this definition into a spatial framework which can be used to guide development. The methodology used the wards as the basis of the analysis and prioritization in terms of the CRDP.  Some 4392 wards across South Africa in the 8 Category A and 205 category B municipalities were classified in terms of their land uses and degree of developmental need and potential.

The following figure shows the breakdown of all wards throughout the country, with group A having the highest (best) developmental need and group E having the lowest developmental need.

Table 2:  Breakdown of Development Need and Potential by Ward (shown by Province)

Provinces A: 81-100% % B: 61-80% % C: 41%-60% % D: 21-40% % E: 50-20% % Grand Total
Eastern Cape 380 55,7 23 3,4 27 4 35 5,1 217 31,8 682
Free State 21 6,8 7 2,3 11 3,6 35 11,3 235 76,1 309
Gauteng 3 0,6 3 0,6 3 0,6 9 1,7 511 96,6 529
KwaZulu-Natal 511 58,7 45 5,2 29 3,3 42 4,8 243 27,9 870
Limpopo 410 69,6 37 6,3 29 4,9 20 3,4 93 15,8 589
Mpumalanga 158 39,5 17 4,3 20 5 32 8 173 43,3 400
Northern Cape 25 12,3 4 2 8 3,9 23 11,3 144 70,6 204
North West 192 47,2 18 4,4 20 4,9 26 6,4 151 37,1 407
Western Cape 15 3,7 17 4,2 26 6,5 35 8,7 309 76,9 402
Grand Total 1715 39 171 3,9 173 3,9 257 5,9 2076 47,3 4392


The paper began with a broad sketch of urbanization in Africa and continued with a description of the municipal system in South Africa, including the major policy approaches which have been developed to address spatial inequality in South Africa.  Two rural-urban differentiation methodologies were outlined showing the degree of urbanness and spatial inequality in South Africa.  Importantly, to address this inequality, significant resources will be required to address South Africa’s developmental challenges.  A significant proportion of those resources will likely be spent in the major urban settlements and they will continue to play a very important role in driving economic development across South Africa and indeed the continent.

[1] Local Government: Municipal Demarcation Act: The independent Municipal Demarcation Board is given the power to determine the categories of municipality, their outer boundaries and wards. Additional functions of the Board are to provide advice to government and work with government Departments to align municipal boundaries and government’s service delivery regions.

[2] Municipal Structures Act: The Act allowed for different types of municipality (Executive Mayor, Executive Committee and Plenary) and define the relationship between traditional authorities and local government.

[3] Municipal Systems Act: This Act ensures that municipalities must base their developmental initiatives on Integrated Development Plans for the municipality as a whole. Administrations will be made to account directly to the councils and electorate.

[4] Property Rating Act: This legislation creates a more rational system of property rating and extends the principle of property rates as a source of income to new sectors and across the country as a whole.

[5] Municipal Financial Management Act: This aims to achieve effective and efficient administrations with proper financial accounting and reporting.

[6] The Comprehensive Rural Development Programme Framework (CRDP) (2009) Rural Development Framework (RDF), 1997

[7]The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) Strategic Plan, 2015-2020